Judge Doesn’t Like Chicago’s Ban on Ads in Ubers

CHICAGO (CN) — A federal judge refused to dismiss a constitutional lawsuit challenging a Chicago law that prohibits Uber, Lyft and other rideshare drivers from displaying ads and entertainment inside and outside their cars.

Vugo, a Minneapolis-based mobile media network, sued Chicago in February, claiming its 2014 ordinance violates its equal protection rights because it does not ban taxi drivers and ordinary passenger vehicles from displaying similar content.

The law prohibits Uber, Lyft and other rideshare drivers from displaying revenue-generating ads, news and other entertainment inside and on the exterior of their vehicles.

Four co-plaintiff drivers say that before it became illegal in Chicago, drivers could earn extra money by downloading the Vugo app onto a tablet computer and mounting on the headrest of a front seat.

Plaintiff Patricia Page says she was fined because she placed an ad for her face-painting business on the exterior of a car she used as a “transportation network vehicle”

U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo on Wednesday denied the city’s motion to dismiss, based on a claim that rideshare passengers are “captive” audiences unprotected from unwanted intrusion in the form of streaming ads.

“(T)he complaint describes Vugo’s app as ‘interactive,’ which suggests that passengers may be able to turn off any messages they prefer not to see or hear,” Bucklo wrote. “Yet, the ordinance prohibits interior commercial advertising in all formats, regardless of how easy or difficult it may be for passengers simply to turn it off, and thus is arguably overbroad in that respect.”

Nor did the city show how banning exterior ads that might be unsightly or distracting affects traffic safety or roadway appearance.

Bucklo let the equal protection and First Amendment claims survive, finding the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on those issues.

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